Offseason talk has been backed thus far in the preseason, as the Atlanta Falcons seem to be moving toward a pass-oriented offense under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. If that continues into the regular season, and there is little reason to think it won’t, the talk of reducing the workload of running back Michael Turner will become reality. That means more pass attempts from quarterback Matt Ryan, and will clearly equal more targets for wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones as the top two options in the passing game.
Fantasy football owners may find themselves trying to decide between the Falcons’ top two wide receivers, who are both widely ranked in the top 10 in preseason fantasy rankings and are likely to go in a similar spot in regular drafts or similar money in auctions. So which one should be regarded more highly on draft day? As I have done before, I will analyze each player then give my final analysis and make my choice.
White has been the most targeted wide receiver in the NFL over the past two seasons, with 359 in that span, but last season’s league-high 14 drops is a concern and led to lackluster efficiency stats. Despite the drops he was still very productive in 2011 with 100 receptions for 1,296 yards and eight touchdowns, which gives him 225 catches for 2,685 yards and 18 touchdowns over the past two seasons. White has at least 83 receptions or 1,153 yards in each of the last five seasons, with 29 touchdowns over the last three campaigns. His durability is also noteworthy, as he has not missed a game in seven seasons (112 consecutive games).
White has been Ryan’s go-to-guy in critical situations, as reflected by his 102 first-down receptions on third down since 2008, and that should not change much in 2012 even if there are more targets to go around in Atlanta’s passing game. Simply put, White is one of the safest and most reliable wide receiver options a fantasy owner can choose on draft day.
It took Jones a little while to hit his stride as a rookie last season, and hamstring issues caused him to miss three games. But a strong finish with 24 receptions for 461 yards and six touchdowns over the final five games of the season helped propel him to solid overall numbers (54 receptions, 959 yards, eight touchdowns). His 17.8 yards per catch ranked fourth-best among wide receivers targeted at least 90 times, and included six catches of 40-plus yards.
Jones should absolutely benefit from a full offseason heading into his second season, and his size (6’3″, 220 lbs.) and speed (4.34 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine) makes him an intriguing fantasy option if he can be healthy. The promise of an expanded role, particularly in the red zone where had just seven targets in 2011, further enhances his potential for a big season in 2012. Atlanta wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie has recently suggested that Jones can catch 80 passes this season “sleepwalking”, which only adds to all the positive buzz surrounding him from teammates, media and coaches all offseason.
White and Jones are both in line to be top-10 fantasy wide receivers in 2012, so the choice here comes down to your league’s scoring system. White’s catch total is likely to be higher even if Jones emerges this season, so his appeal is clearly higher in PPR formats. Jones on the other hand is a better big-play threat and is a very nice option in leagues that have bonuses for long touchdowns and big plays in general.
For me White is the better choice, with his track record of production, durability and still prominent role standing out in particular. Jones had foot surgery prior to being drafted in 2011, so health concerns pre-date his pro career and create some risk of a missed game or two and inconsistent production.